Learn from your mistakes. The Puffa school of hard knocks.
It was claimed that I pronounced to the deaf world that I would never “do” Strathpuffer again after my lacklustre attempt at the 2015’s entering scenario. A feeble comedy plot regarding refresh, refresh, refresh and………………. you are too late. It was claimed that I had renounced winter training as a fad and was going to concentrate my dark winter energy in brewing beer and sampling fine and rare single malt whiskey whilst popping my head out from above the stone that I was under to shake my arm at the heavens and rant about the weather. I was wrong. July came and I was signed up in the solo category and just to make the whole trip a little bit more interesting I decided to enter the single speed category riding my ridged Kona Unit. This could be the last time I travel up to ride this event due to several basic factors. Time, money, motivation and training. I might look at this as my final curtain on the Strathpuffer pantomime ( oh no it isn’t, oh yes it is) with hopefully a credited dying swan act in the final chapter that will have my pit in rapturous applause as I exit stage left in an non dramatic fashion with the shouts “ look behind you”.
So the journey began with a 5hr drive in monsoon conditions up north to cue outside a bike shop in a small remote Scottish town to earn the privilege of receiving a tag that allows you to experience the dark side of the human psyche and invites Dr Pain into your safe world to administer the drug of hurt and shame. We sauntered up to the race venue at 1.15pm on a sunny Friday afternoon and were faced with an endless stream of white campervans glued onto the side of the small fire road. Like blocks of Lego awkwardly trying to click in together and create one massive master plan super van. This white serpent went on and on (a bit like me when I am trying to create a report) up the hill to the top and beyond. This forced us to climb even higher and soon we were bouncing around on another fire road and ending up on another area of the race trail. We spotted a team from our own home town and decided to pit next to them. As did Team JMC and to be fair I quite liked being away from the maddening crowd .You were halfway around the big fire road climb so you might as well of finished the lap. Well that was my thinking.
After all the faffing and faffing and nervous faffing it was time to head down to the start to stand about and faff. That’s when a distant thought hit me. The last time I done this I was on a Ragley Marley with 120mm travel up front. This “new” course is slightly longer and rockier than it was two years ago. I was starting to wonder if my bike choice was an intelligent one giving that I could have added some suspension. This was my first time racing on a Single speed (32:20) and first time racing a rigid steel bike. Oh well, what’s the worst that can happen.
10am and we are off. I might just add that Lisa did start the race but after falling on her buttocks a few times she quit in a cloud of darkness and self loathing. This became my advantage as now I had some pit help. Sorry if that sounds callous but in the back of my head I knew I would need all the support I can get as this is going to be one long, knee bursting night.
The first few laps I was gauging my rhythm on the single speed. I loved the power that I have on the long dragging climbs as there was plenty of moving targets that pulled me along. The simplicity of just one gear works for me as I would engage my legs to judge the speed of my climbing. No wrong choices, just an increase of power and your whole body works in a uniformed motion to propel you up a climb. Silent as the distant bird the only noise that you hear is your heart.
So the day fades into night and the silhouettes appear and play. The laps are becoming laboured. I am starting to struggle with the bike due to the roughness of the course and laps 6 and 7 I am fighting the course and the bike. The rigid forks are basically killing me as my wrists become excruciatingly sore and limp and my shoulders feel like I have carried a nation to battle and lost. The constant jarring of the rocky areas and descents are taking their toll and my lap times are gathering minutes instead of seconds. My confidence is beginning to challenge my mind. As I stop to change bottles and Hoover up some rice pudding my upper body is aching with pain and tension. The reality of hitting my 200-250km mark is slipping away due to my stupidity (yes that is my buzz word for my choice) in riding a rigid steel bike. I head out to chase the moon, to rid me of that AM sickly feeling and to man the **** up. As I feebly attack the rocky top that sports Bill the skeleton on a bike my mind wanders and suddenly I am jolted from the bike. I look up and now the bike is standing over me. It’s just decided to give me a hiding and proceeds to beat me up. As the handlebars turn into fists and the wheels boots I battle to survive this unprovoked attack. As I wearily fight back I manage to stranglehold the bars so I can control the bikes aggression and lead it back to the trail, on to the lights and finally base. I slump into a chair and mumble about the fight, the bike and then I fall asleep.
I am awoken by the lights whizzing by and the sound of the gravel tearing up. Lisa just left me sleeping as I was exhausted and obviously needed the shut eye. I reckon I was out cold for an hour. Bleary eyed I stretched out my old worn carcass and eyed up the bike. It’s personal. Five minutes later I am wheezing up the fire road trying to get some warmth into my body and forcing a smile.
As the dark filters into grey then morning the sheer carnage of hundreds of bikes can be seen on the last part of the course. I can’t really describe what I am staring at as there is no trail. Only a sea of mud and tree stumps. The wasted energy in cycling in this gloop is astounding as I am trying to fathom out where to point my bike. I dib in and I am now finished my 15th lap. As I race up the long fire road I am a broken man but I still have some energy to wind the single cog up and over to the pit. I am ready for another lap but it will have to be quick. Sadly I find that our pit has been packed up and put away. The game is over. My rigid single speed challenge has ended.
The Strathpuffer always amazes me due to the fact that there are all levels of cyclist out there giving it a go. First times, old timers, the young and the old. One lappers or 30 lappers the aim is the same to get around the course and try again. I loved riding the single speed and I will race in that category again but forget riding a rigid bike. What started out as a novelty soon turned into a nightmare as I really did suffer between 12 midnight and 6 in the morning. My confidence fell and the energy expelled taking all the hits and vibrations mirrored my final outcome. I can’t thank Lisa enough for pitting as she helped me overcome some of my pain demons. It was also great to meet some of my Team JMC teammates – thanks for the moral support.
As for the Strathpuffer. Am I finished with it? Ask me in July. By then I might have got hold of some man up pills!